back to article Has riddle of the 1977 'Wow!' signal finally been cracked? Maybe...

The mystery of the "Wow!" signal, a radio burst recorded from outer space in the 1970s, may been solved. Or not. Not everyone is convinced. The 72-second signal was spotted at 1,420MHz on August 15, 1977 by Astronomer Jerry Ehman at Ohio State University's Big Ear radio telescope. It was so clear that he scribbled Wow! in the …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    An electrifying outcome.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up


      I assume these are acting as a pair, or large structure to divert charge from the solar wind? Or is it from a magnetic field of a planet (I've not looked at their locations if close or not)?

  2. jake Silver badge


    Nice detective work, folks. Have one on me :-)

    (No, I'm not so delusional as to think anybody involved reads ElReg comments.)

    1. Martin Summers Silver badge

      Re: WOW!

      Let's hope they don't for your sake, or that's possibly a large and expensive round!

      1. I3N

        Re: WOW!

        Astronomy on Tap (worldwide) ... they do drink ...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: WOW!

      I am.

    3. I3N

      Re: WOW!

      Comments?? .... always a blank stare when something in ElReg is offered to the conversation ...

      Anyone who has been through that process of data analysis, have one on me too.

      What was saved in software was better spent on hardware ....

  3. Voland's right hand Silver badge

    That is not a comet, it's a space station

    Paraphrasing the late Sir Guiness. "That is not a comet, it's a space station"

    1. frank ly

      Re: That is not a comet, it's a space station

      I'll raise a glass to Sir Guinness but I think you're paraphrasing Sir Alec.

  4. Elmer Phud

    Roll up, roll up

    Laydeez an gennelmen,

    We bring you one shit-load of conspiracy theories, 'space tech cover up', 'Illuminati keeps us dumb' etc, etc. as those who look towards the stars for salvation have yet another route closed.

    I guess it's back to the 'dolphin speakers' and 'alien contactors' to get back to work (there's a flock to be fleeced).

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: Roll up, roll up

      These days, "alien contactors" need to show that they have at a minimum tenuous links to Russia, otherwise they won't make headlines.

      1. Geoffrey W

        Re: Roll up, roll up

        Only in the USA

  5. Notas Badoff

    Hey, what's that smell?

    " Astronomers will continue to check the results to see if other comets exhibit the same behavior."

    They do. This article already said "... and that other comets also emitted similar emissions."

    And another article at also mentions "To verify their results, they tested readings from three other comets, as well, and found similar results."

    So comet poots raised a stink cuz they didn't know who dunnit. Now we'll be watching for those 'cropdusting' jokers.

  6. Your alien overlord - fear me

    Obviously aliens ride comets as a stellar Uber and the signals are are them talking to each other.

    Anything else is an Illuminati-led cover up to keep the sheeple on Earth whilst they plan to leave this cesspit before it gets too hot.

  7. james 68

    I'll wait thanks.

    I'll wait for their work to be peer reviewed and replicated several times before I agree with their conclusions. I find it difficult to take their thesis as wrote, perhaps something to do with them stating "We speculate..." as opposed to "Our rigourous testing has proven..."

    Essentially they only have speculation, not a proof or theory.

    That's theory in the scientific sense, not the common usage.

    1. Sir Sham Cad

      Re: I'll wait thanks.

      You'll be waiting a while. They can't just whistle up a comet in a lab, point a spectroscope at it and, bosh, Science!

      Where do you publish comet research? In a periodical!

      Coat. Yes.

      1. james 68

        Re: I'll wait thanks.

        There are quite a few known comet trajectories and boffins the world over have access to a pretty fair choice of radio telescopes. Shouldn't imagine it would take long at all really.

        +1 for the periodical joke though.

        1. I3N

          Re: I'll wait thanks.

          Don't hold your breath for the Great Bowl China ...

          what wasn't published in English,

          "Once it does, it will likely require hundreds of astronomers. However, due to the shortage of astronomers, the telescope will not operate at full capacity for a long time." derwik

      2. Grunt #1

        Re: I'll wait thanks.

      3. PNGuinn

        Re: I'll wait thanks.


        Yer can whistle all yer likes, but yer'll get now't in results unless yer 'as a nice warm cup 'o tea ready fer 't when 't arrives.

        Call yerself a scientist?

        Now our dad ...

      4. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

        Re: Where do you publish comet research?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I'll wait thanks.

      67P has been found to emit EM signals - totally unexpected at the time, it has to be said. They're still speculating on the precise cause, but the effect is real.

      1. PNGuinn

        Re: I'll wait thanks.


        That is all.

        Thanks, mine's the one with the soup stains on the sleeves.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I'll wait thanks.

        That would be the distress signal from the crashed alien scout ship obviously.........

        1. Kiwi

          Re: I'll wait thanks.

          alien scout ship

          Alien scouts? Dammit! It was bad enough when they added gurlz to the Boy Scouts, now they're adding Aliens?

    3. james 68

      Re: I'll wait thanks.

      Well what do ya know? Seems that astronomers and astrophysicists are saying the guy is full of crap, helped along with a hefty dollop of "Oh look he's started a kickstarter page to scam people for drug money funds." as opposed to seeking legit funding.

      Always wait for the peer review and study replication.

  8. Grunt #1

    I wish this wasn't true.

    Life would be so much more interesting if it was an alien life form.

    1. ratfox

      Re: I wish this wasn't true.

      This is what conspiracy theories are for! "Surely you don't believe this fake explanation? They're lying to us!"

      1. Mark 85

        Re: I wish this wasn't true.

        Mandatory political comment:

        Ask Trump. He'll tell if you if it's fake or not.

        Coat, check.

        Hat, check.

        I'm outta' here.....

    2. Eddy Ito

      Re: I wish this wasn't true.

      Don't take to so hard, there's almost certainly life out there. It might just be slime mold at the moment or maybe it has already gone extinct or well, you get the idea. Given the distance, we'll probably never contact it since the whole syn/ack thing would take a generation or more and that's only if they (we?) are smart enough. The cockroaches who will evolve, become sentient, and take over earth in our stead will have a much easier time of it because they'll be more likely to speak the same language.

      1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson

        Re: I wish this wasn't true.

        And (apart from the odd "teaser") the sentient life out there won't talk to us because of cricket. Bad form, very bad form, that game, in Galactic terms.

        Doffs hat (grey Tilley today) to the late, great Douglas Adams

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    There was a recent edition of Horizon (which seems, at least on the occasional programs I've watched recently to be returning to form) covering the search for extraterristrial life and one of the sections was on the "Wow" event and had this new research as now being seen as the explanation. Other initially unexpected transmissions were found to be due to people cooking snacks in the microwave at a radio telescope centre etc. Last example which still seemed not to be explained was the hypothesis that observations indicated construction of a Dyson sphere in a galaxy far far away

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Dyson sphere in a galaxy far far away

      Is that a garbled reference to Tabby's Star?

      If so, it's not in a far galaxy, it's just 1000 ly or so away.

      If there was construction, one would indeed expect to see evidence of: gamma ray emissions, radio blasts weird spectral lines (earth masses of water, oxygen and chloropyll?), and people yelling at each other in languages from the Galactic South. But, nothing.

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        and people yelling at each other in languages from the Galactic South.

        Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay

        My, oh, my, what a wonderful day

        Plenty of sunshine headin' my way

        Till a Dyson sphere blocks it, and gets in da way.

  10. bob, mon!

    Arthur C. Clarke quote

    Shurely more apropos:

    "...the surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." - Calvin and Hobbes

  11. Anonymous Coward

    So the signal was due to natural, replicable causes and there is no government cover-up?

    Of course, this is exactly what they would say if there WAS a government cover-up!

    (OMG! That's Tommy Lee Jones! Wow, that's a big pen...)

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: So the signal was due to natural, replicable causes and there is no government cover-up?

      But what if the government covers up natural, replicable causes ...

      Or a government cover-up actually is a natural, replicable cause?

      1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

        Re: So the signal was due to natural, replicable causes and there is no government cover-up?

        "Or a government cover-up actually is a natural, replicable cause?"

        Technically, yes.

  12. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Oh well, another item to rule out in case we get another signal.

    And more prove that the universe can be a very odd place indeed.

    Which means if something really odd does turn up we can be sure it really is really odd.

    Knowledge is always better than ignorance in this situation.

  13. gizmo23

    Arthur C. Clarke quote

    "Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying." ®

    I don't think so. There can be thousands of technologically advanced civilisations in the rest of the universe and it would make no difference to us whatsoever. All the tests we've done so far have supported Einstein's theories (the latest from Ars: so the speed of light is still the limit.

    That means realistically, our chances of communicating with any civilisation more than a hundred light years away is pretty much zero. And space is way bigger than that*. Even if we only consider our own galaxy, there's room for dozens of civilisations like us, all of which are too far away for us to talk to in any meaningful time frame. So not so terrifying after all.

    *Douglas Adams quote goes here.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: *Douglas Adams quote goes here :

      "Space is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space."

    2. a_yank_lurker

      Re: Arthur C. Clarke quote

      The problem with the analysis is the assumption that our current theories are the final word on interstellar travel. It is more likely our current theories are woefully incomplete but we have no idea how woeful right now. With that in mind, we really do not know if there are any more advanced civilizations in the universe or not. Nor can we prove either we are alone or there many.

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        Re: Arthur C. Clarke quote

        It is more likely our current theories are woefully incomplete

        I beg to differ. There is strong evidence that our current theories, though more "effective" than "fundamental", are quite complete indeed.

        There is tons of things to work out and possibly a complete remodeling will be needed, but the speed of light is quite the fulcrum of everything.

        1. tacitust

          Re: Arthur C. Clarke quote

          Agreed. The odds of there being a viable short-cut across the gulf between the stars are exceedingly low. We don't know everything about the Universe as yet, but I people tend to underestimate how much we do know about the physical laws that govern it. Einstein modified Newton in edge cases, anything that improves on Einstein will be similarly limited in scope.

          Our best hope for galactic colonisation lies with combining sub-light travel with some form of suspended animation and/or life-extension -- perhaps a ship loaded with frozen embryos to be raised by an AI at the destination. Who knows?

          All I know is that absent an intervention from a much more advanced technological species (and if they're reading this -- what's the hold up?), we're going to be stuck on this rock called Earth for a very long time to come.

          1. Captain DaFt

            Re: Arthur C. Clarke quote

            "Our best hope for galactic colonisation lies with combining sub-light travel with some form of suspended animation and/or life-extension -- perhaps a ship loaded with frozen embryos to be raised by an AI at the destination. Who knows?"

            Sorry, but I feel that's a bit pessimistic.

            World ships, capable of carrying populations in the millions with accompanying ecosystems, moving from one icy/rocky body to the next for resources, building new ships as needed, seems an option we could do now.

            A vast, expanding cloud of humanity, or post humanity, each ship in constant contact with neighboring ships.

            Eventually, they'd cross the Oort cloud and reach other solar systems, in a timeframe of eons.

          2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

            Re: Arthur C. Clarke quote

            The odds of there being a viable short-cut across the gulf between the stars are exceedingly low.

            Another thing they couldn't stand was the perpetual failure they encountered while trying to construct a machine which could generate the infinite improbability field needed to flip a spaceship across the mind-paralyzing distances between the farthest stars, and at the end of the day they grumpily announced that such a machine was virtually impossible.

            Then, one day, a student who had been left to sweep up after a particularly unsuccessful party found himself reasoning in this way: If, he thought to himself, such a machine is a virtual impossibility, it must have finite improbability. So all I have to do in order to make one is to work out exactly how improbable it is, feed that figure into the finite improbability generator, give it a fresh cup of really hot tea... and turn it on!

        2. Kiwi

          Re: Arthur C. Clarke quote

          There is tons of things to work out and possibly a complete remodeling will be needed, but the speed of light is quite the fulcrum of everything.

          "Everything that can be invented has been invented" or words to that effect, about a hundred years ago.

          I'm optimistic that there is stuff yet to be discovered. Largely because of the number of times in the past we've heard that 'there is nothing more to be discovered'.

          We were at the limits of computing long before smart phones were invented, man could never travel faster than 30Mph (or whatever the speed was), 4 minute mile will never be broken and so on and so forth. We could stop all funding on science of course, since it's all been done and only a few crackpots really want to push it further. Or we could try pushing the boundaries.

          Mine's the one with 6 atoms in the pocket from Burns Atom Smashing.

  14. Gene Cash Silver badge

    The finest scientific processing software

    From the paper:

    The data collected was saved using the spreadsheet output format option of the SpectraCyber software and imported into Microsoft Excel as a text file. The data were then replotted and interpreted using the Chart Wizard feature in Microsoft Excel and converted into JPEG format.

    All kidding aside, I Googled "SpectraCyber" and discovered it's open source and on GitHub. Three cheers to the astroboffins!

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: The finest scientific processing software

      If it wasn't done in Powerpoint*, I'm not buying it!

      *Displayed in Comic Sans naturally...

  15. Red Bren


    I'm not reading the article! I'm not reading other comments. I'm just believing WE HEARD ALIENS!!!

    1. Red Bren

      I read the article. It was comets. Bugger.

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        Read again after update. It wasn't.


      2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        The article never mentioned whether there were aliens driving the comets or not.

        The intergalactic version of Uber have been illegally testing driverless comets in this sector of the galaxy unfortunately, but only a few planets have been destroyed, and none of them had voters on, so it's not too much of a problem.

  16. Bob Rocket

    There are holes

    in the Universe where the Dark Matter gets in.

    'the speed of light is quite the fulcrum of everything' if you go the long way round, the Dark takes a short cut.

    1. eldel

      Re: There are holes

      Or, as the revered Milligan put it ...

      There's holes in the sky

      Where the rain gets in

      But they're very small

      That's why rain is thin

    2. herman

      Re: There are holes

      The dark matter is the plastic peanuts and bubble wrap that the universe came in.

  17. JLV

    alone or not alone

    'Alone except for only 1 other' is the really terrifying scenario.

    Mine's the coat w a copy of 'Dark Forest' in it.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    They need to look at the real evidence

    But what if Ancient Astronaut Theorist are right? This could just be the activation code for Teotihuacan.

    1. sisk

      Re: They need to look at the real evidence

      But what if Ancient Astronaut Theorist are right?

      Given the amount of evidence that ancient astronaut nutjobs have to ignore - right up there with flat earthers - to spout their theories that seem extraordinarily unlikely.

  19. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

    So, all we have to do is to wait another 40 years to replicate the signal from the same source(s). We'll also have additional data to (probably) confirm the relation of signal strength to (decreasing) mass of comet(s).

    Hmm. 40 years, I just might make it.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Ok lets keep going. Im sick of seeing Ancient Aliens on the history channel.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: "Aliens"

      I love that show! It's the only comedy I'll watch :-)

    2. Geoffrey W

      Re: "Aliens"

      RE: "Im sick of seeing Ancient Aliens on the history channel."

      Those aren't ancient aliens. They're just ancient presenters and personalities everyone has forgotten about, or never heard of in the first place.

  21. SteveK

    Who switched the comet off?

    Ok, not trying to push any sort of alien signal cover up conspiracy theory, just a couple of questions that the article didn't address (ok, I'll admit I've not read the full paper, does that explain?)

    From memory, there were two dishes pointed at the same location, slightly offset. If it was comets, surely the other dish should have picked up the same signal a couple of minutes before or after? Or is the signal not constant but changes as the comet spins? (for instance)

    I gather the scientists pointed the dishes back at the same point and surrounding space repeatedly afterwards without picking up the signal again, surely comets don't move sufficiently fast to be nowhere near the next night, or even weeks later? So why was nothing picked up?

    It seems most likely that if a comet that has since been shown to be emitting a signal at that frequency was in the same place at the same time, it's probably responsible. But doesn't answer those questions.

    Just looking on wikipedia, the article on this event references this paper but says it doesn't answer the first question, and says (but cites no sources) that Ehman and his colleagues think it highly unlikely to explain the signal. Not that they're biased.

  22. Paul J Turner

    Feeling torn

    "This paper was also just really, really, really short on details that a radio astronomer would want, to the point where it likely wouldn't have passed a referee at a regular journal," said Yvette Cendes, a skeptical radio astronomer at the University of Toronto.

    It would be really nice to think that the persons who SHOULD be the experts were right, but how many times has science been held back by group-think among the 'experts' until their noses were rubbed in the clear and definite truth?

    1. hekla

      Re: Feeling torn

      There are many points about the paper, which are awkward.

      1 - Unusual journal for radio astronomy, (significant issues with the authenticity of the journal and its referees)

      2 - Use of units of signal strength from comms not radio astronomy

      3 - No mention of location, background contamination data no supplied/measured

      4 - Heavy use of person resume

      5 - Minimal calibration data

      6 - Insufficient data to reproduce the comet data

      7 - et alia

      One or two of these can be overlooked if the others are present, but not all of them. Go read the reddit post for a full description of the short comings of this paper.

  23. Kaltern

    Funny really. When something that flies in the face of established science and physics is brought to light, all scientists everywhere will immediately demand peer-reviewed duplication before they'll even consider the idea.

    Yet something like the Wow signal, which has been completely without explanation all this time, suddenly gets one, without peer-reviewed duplication, and all the scientists say 'Yes'. Because that's the way it goes.

    It's only possible if it fits. Like the time the Earth was the centre of the universe. Or that time when the Earth was flat. History repeats, regardless how people don't want it to.

  24. I3N

    Fuss about the paper if you want ...

    Somehow, some of us don't think a life of swapping out hard drives as fun ...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Fuss about the paper if you want ...

      this web site is written by the authors of the paper so purely self referential .

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Translated, it reads:

    Hi, your call is important to us, all of our alien overlords are busy on another call...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Translated, it reads:

      MAXO signals: A new and unfortunate solution to the Fermi paradox

      This is seriously tongue-in-cheek

  26. Cuddles

    Astronomers aren't buying it, it seems.

    Really? The "not buying it" quote comes from someone claiming to be an astronomer on Reddit, of all places, who apparently doesn't even realise that the Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences actually is a perfectly respectable peer reviewed journal. Their entire argument, other than failing to recognise the journal, is that the paper doesn't give the exact specifications of the dish, which isn't actually relevant at all - if it's capable of picking up the frequencies under investigation, that's all that matters. If someone else tried to replicate the study they might get a stronger or weaker signal with a different dish, but it's the presence of a signal at all that is relevant to the study, and the information required to replicate that certainly is in the paper.

    1. james 68

      Re: Astronomers aren't buying it, it seems.

      That comets emit radio waves is not in question (there are other peer reviewed articles covering this), what is in question is this particular article and author.

      A small but important question for you - where is the authors proof that the WOW signal matches that of the comet?

      I'll save you the search, there isn't any. The author speculates that there is a match, although the signal does not in fact match and the author resorts to hand waving, giving several different solutions as to the variance stating that any one of them could be the factor.... or maybe even a mixture of them. This is not science. A scientist would work at the problem until they found an answer so they could state that the variance is due to X, not fire off that maybe, possibly if you squint real hard it could be X, Y or Z but maybe its X + Y to the the third power of Z's cousin twice removed but I can resolve this maybe/possibly if you donate on my kickstarter page.....

  27. sisk

    It's never aliens......Dangit.

    Professional astronomers are such killjoys. Wow signal? Comets, not aliens. Tabby's star? Probably comets or asteroids, not aliens. Streaks of light outside the ISS? Lens flares, not aliens. Anal probes? Drunk rednecks, not aliens (actually, I'm kinda glad that one's not aliens...I don't think I'd be interested in meeting an "advanced" species that obsessed over another species rectums to the point of kidnapping people just to stick something up their butts).

    Ah well. Sooner or later something's gonna be aliens. Probably. I hope.

  28. Zmodem

    you can just download it off the seti site and slow it down and hear some radio chatter

  29. LaeMing
    Black Helicopters

    Of course,

    THAT is what they WANT you to believe! :-P

  30. wolfetone Silver badge

    Look, this is all conjecture. The original idea that this was an alien society pinging back a radio signal is the the correct one.

    The problem is, the signal was the aliens telling us to piss off and leave them alone.

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